Can Change the World Again.
THE REVELATION OF JOHN,
CRITICAL, EXPLANATORY, AND PRACTICAL,
DESIGNED FOR BOTH PASTORS AND PEOPLE.
REV. HENRY COWLES, D. D.
"Understandest then what then readest? And he said, How can I unless some man should guide me?"
ACTS VIII: 30, 31.
I. Of the Author.
1. Christian Fathers | 2. Few Contrary Voices | 3. Internal Traits, Objections Considered.
II. Of the date of his writing.
1. Internal Evidence | 2. External.
III. Of his timeshis circumstances and those of his first readers.
IV. Of the questionTo whom precisely was this book primarily addressed and therefore specially adapted?
1. Prophecy depending upon the fulfilling event and not upon the revealing words, is not true | 2. Contrary to Moral purpose | 3. Confronted by the facts.
V. The various indications in the book which locate its prophetic events in place and in time, and thus become landmarks to guide to its just interpretation.
VI. The sources of the writer's figurative imagery and the bearing of these sources upon his use of them in this book.
VII. The principles or laws which should control the interpretation of this book.
1. Come to the book Unprejudiced | 2. Interpret in harmony with God's own declarations | 3. And His interpretation of symbols | 4. And whatever allusions it contains to known historic events and localities | 5. And that Christians then living were to be the persecuted men of whom these visions speak | 6. Persecuting name omitted because John's first readers knew it | 7. Interpret in harmony with the obvious moral purpose | 8. Symbols borrowed from the Old Testament should be obviously interpreted in the light of their usage there | 9. While these principles of interpretation suffice to prove that the great body of the book refers to events then near at hand, the well-known usage of prophecy will permit the minds of both prophet and reader to pass over by analogy from these events to others of like general character far in the futurethese future events being reached, not through a continuous series of history, filling up the whole interval, but under the law of analogy by which one series of events suggests another of like general character, resting on the same broad principles of God's government.
The book opens with the source and the channels from which this revelation comes (vs. 1, 2); the blessing promised to the readers and the hearers (v. 3); the address proper of the book, coupled with the a apostolic benediction (vs. 4, 5), and ascriptions of glory to Jesus (vs. 5, 6); the announcement of his glorious coming (vs. 7, 8). Then the writer speaks of himself and his circumstances (v. 9); is enjoined to write what he sees and, send it to the seven churches (vs. 10, 11); and then describes at length the majestic appearance of the Son of Man (vs. 12-16), and the further instructions embraced in his prophetic commission (vs. 17-20).
Here are four of the seven special letters addressed respectively to Ephesus (1-7); to Smyrna (8-11); to Pergamos (12-17); and to Thyatira (18-29). Obviously the reason for a distinct message to each lay in what was peculiar in their respective cases; in the tone of their love, their stability, their Christian work, the errors of doctrine and of practice which had crept in to pervert their sentiments and corrupt their Christian life. While the visions that follow and make up the body of the book would be pertinent to them all and therefore are addressed without distinction to them all, the brief messages recorded in chapters 2 and 3 were wisely addressed to these churches severally.
Three letters to as many churches make up this chapter;to Sardis (1-6); to Philadelphia (7-13); to Laodicea (14-22).
The chapter gives us the prophet's first introduction to the scenes and personages of the heavenly world. In succession we have the opened door and the voice calling him up thither (v. 1); the throne and the appearance of him who sat thereon (vs. 2, 3); the twenty-four seats and as many elders sitting (v. 4); the sounds from the throne and the seven lamps of fire (v. 5); the four living ones seen, described, and their song of adoration (6-8); coincident with their song is that of the twenty-four elders (vs. 9-11).
The great feature of this chapter is the book of destiny seen in heaven (v. 1); the question, Who can open and read it (vs. 2-4); settled at length by the announcement that the Lion of Judith has conquered and will open and read it (v. 5). He appears in form as a Lamb slain and takes the book (vs. 6, 7); whereupon the joy of heaven breaks forth in glorious song; the living ones and the elders first leading (vs. 8-10), and then the myriads of angels come in with the grand chorus (vs. 11-14).
The first six of the seven seals are opened in their order, and the prophet describes what he saw and records what he heard in each case.
This entire chapter is interposed between the sixth seal and the seventh, interrupting for the time the regular succession of the scenes disclosed by the opening of the seals. We may call this as many have done, an "episode;" but the name is of small account. The simple fact is that the successive seals disclose in order the judgments to be sent by God on some great persecuting power. This is their theme and this only. But here is a revelation, not of judgments on the guilty but of blessings, first upon those Jewish converts who having accepted Christ by faith are marked for exemption from the judgments coming on their land; and next upon Gentile converts considered as "coming out of great tribulation."
Unlike either of the first six seals this seventh when opened discloses not one particular symbol, indicating a single event (or some special phase of an historic period) to be sketched in few words; but it discloses an entire sevenfold set of new symbols; in other words, the seventh seal is itself expanded into the seven trumpets, and each of these trumpets becomes a distinct symbol. The object is manifestly to spread out the symbols of judgment and woe, and make them more impressive by a fuller detaila more minute and extended description.According to Mosaic law (Num. 10: 9) and Hebrew usage (2 Chron. 13: 12) the great trumpet was blown as the signal of war, and hence became a natural symbol of calamity, judgment.
In this chapter we have with the opening of the seventh seal, the solemn silence (v. 1); the seven angels receiving each his trumpet (v. 2); the symbol of incense accompanying and representing the prayers of saints (vs. 3, 4); the casting of fire from the altar down to the earth and the results (v. 5); and then the scenes which successively followed the sounding of the first four of these trumpets (vs. 6-13).
This chapter gives us the fifth and sixth trumpets, spoken of sometimes as the first and second of the woe-trumpets.
This short chapter, unsurpassed in the magnificence of its scenes, is remarkable for its introduction of new imagery. The old symbolism which in its general outline has been constantly before us through chapters 5-9 is now, not perhaps entirely dropped, but greatly modified by the appearance of new elements. Consequently we have new questions of interpretation to grapple with.But let it be suggested that in so far as these questions pertain rather to the drapery of the vision than to its contents and subject-matter, their importance is only secondary, and is not vital. Yet it must be a matter of some interest to look into these questions of drapery and symbol... More vitally important than any mere question of costume is the fact that this chapter comes in here to apprise us that the grand catastrophe is nearthat the long delayed and final blow is about to fall. The blast of the seventh trumpet, closing out the contents of the seventh seal, will cut short and complete the fearful work of retribution on the first grand enemy of Christianity. The event is of such importance as to justify these solemn premonitions by means of this new and magnificent imagery.Hence in this chapter we have a mighty angel coming down from heaven, and his appearance (v. 1); his little book and his attitude (v. 2); the speaking of the seven thunders which was not to be recorded (vs. 3, 4); the solemn oath of this mighty angel and its import (vs. 5-7) the taking and eating of the book and its effect (vs. 8-10); with an intimation to the prophet of his further work (v. 11).
In this remarkable chapter, the interest of the first great series of symbols and prophetic events culminates. We reach the crisis and culmination.Vs. 1, 2 treat of the temple, the altar and the worshipers; then follows the case of the two witnesses, their functions and powers; their martyrdom and its locality; the exultation over their unburied bodies; their resurrection and ascension to heaven; the consternation of their enemies and the convulsions that ensued (vs. 3-13); the sounding of the seventh angel's trumpet the song of heaven, and the closing scene in the upper temple (vs. 14-19).
A new subject comes before us; new scenes open and new symbols appear.This chapter raises three preliminary questions:(1.) Who are the three leading personages here:the woman, her child, and the great red dragon?(2.) Why are these scenes shown the prophet as located in heaven, since the transactions are located chiefly on earth?(3.) What was the object sought in thus going back to matters of earlier historythe birth of Christ; the persecutions raised against him and his people, etc?. . .
Accordingly we have here the woman and her peculiar condition (vs. 1, 2); the dragon and his followers (vs. 3, 4); the birth of the man-child, etc. (v. 5); the woman-mother protected (v. 6); the great battle in heaven and its immediate results (vs. 7, 8); the dragon identified and cast out (v. 9); the consequent joy and songs in heaven (vs. 10, 11); the, devil on earth persecuting the woman (vs. 12, 13); the fight prolonged (vs. 14-17).
This chapter introduces two new personages who play a vitally important part in the scenes described throughout chapters 13-19. they are both savage wild beasts;--the first comes up from the sea (v. 1); the second from the land (v. 11); both sustain special relations to the great red dragon already introduced in chap. 12, for they are his servants, subserving his purposes and doing his work.
Comprehensively there are three main subjects in this chapter: the joy of the redeemed in heaven; the judgments of God upon the wicked in this world, and their eternal misery in the world to come. More particularly, we have a second vision of the one hundred and forty-four thousand redeemed from earth and their character (vs. 1-5); the first angel and his proclamation (vs. 6, 7); the proclamation of the second angel (v. 8); of the third (vs. 9--11); the time of suffering for the saints (v. 12), but their blessedness in the near life to come (v. 13); the reaping of the earth by one like a Son of man (vs. 14-16); and the gathering of its vintage (vs. 17-20).
As the seven seals (chaps. 6, and 8: 1), and the seven trumpets (chaps. 8-11) which were developed out of the seventh seal, all precede and prelude the fall of Jerusalem, so the seven angels with vials, portending the seven last plagues, precede and foretoken the fall of old Rome. In the opening of this chapter they appear a new marvel in heaven; but the detailed report of their mission is delayed a while to show the joy and the songs of heaven in quick anticipation of the triumph to the kingdom of Christ which the judgments they foretoken were intended to secure. Hence we have in this chapter the vision of the seven angels with the seven last plagues (v. 1); the glassy sea and the victorious ones with harps of God (v. 2); their song (vs. 3, 4); the opening of the temple in heaven and the seven angels coming forth from it (vs. 5, 6); one of the four living ones gives them their golden vials (v. 7); whereupon the temple is filled with smoke, indicating the glorious presence of Jehovah (v. 8).
This chapter discloses the sevenfold series of judgments that came on Great Babylon, culminating in the seventh with the grand consummation of her doom. This series of vials bears a striking resemblance to the seven seals and also yet more to the seven trumpets which are substantially an expansion of the seventh seal. By successive visitations of judgment, blow after blow, upon the earth (v. 2); the sea (v. 3); rivers and fountains (vs. 4-7); the sun (vs. 8, 9); the throne of the beast (vs. 10, 11); the great Euphrates (vs. 12-16); and last, into the air (vs. 17-21)the progress of devastation is indicated and the mind receives a deeper impression by the fuller expansion of the subject and the presentation of its special details; or rather by a succession of pictures, scene after scene of desolation, you come to feel that woes are gathered up from all the magazines of God's providential judgmentsall the ministries of wasting, plague and deathtill the climax of horrors is reached at last in hail of a talent's weight, crashing down upon defenseless cities and their helpless populations.To some extent we may trace resemblances here to the successive plagues on Egypt, yet here the scenes are not historic but ideala species of picture-paintingthings shown to the seer of Patmos for the purpose of making on his mind and on the minds of his readers the impression of successive judgments, diversified, vast in their range and scope, fearful in their character, terribly desolating in their final result.
A strange looking beast, having seven heads and ten horns, has been already shown in vision, and some things have been said by way of explaining who he is and what he does (13: 1-6); then a great city called "Babylon the great" has been doomed to a fearful and utter fall (14: 8-11, and 16: 19); the seven angels having the seven vials, indicative of successive judgments from the Almighty, have gone forth and poured out their vials (16: 1-21); but yet so far the explanations given of these symbols have been few and imperfect. More explanation was needed; one of those seven angels comes forward here to give it. This chapter is throughout an explanation of symbols previously shown or at least indicated; viz., the great harlot; the scarlet-colored beast and his seven heads and ten horns.
The theme of this chapter is onea very minute delineation of the sins, the luxury, the traffic, and the fall of Great Babylon. Conceived of as the mart of the nations, the great center of trade and commerce,the merchants and seafaring men of the earth bewail her fall as ruinous to their prosperity.The drapery of this chapter comes from the prophecies concerning Babylon as they appear in Jer. 50 and 51, and Isa. 13 and 14; and of Tyre as in Ezek. 26 to 28 inclusive. The associations connected with the name
This chapter is in two principal parts; vs. 1-10 presenting chiefly the exultation in heaven over the judgment of the great harlot city and the consequent success of the gospel in the redemption of souls from sin and the preparation of the bride for the marriage of the Lamb.Vs. 11-21 give us the great moral battle-field of time, seen in a sort of heavenly perspective, on the principle that the great moral events of earth have their prototypes in heaven. A mighty Conqueror on the white horse of victory appears armed for battle and conquest; his faithful warriors follow him, they too arrayed in robes of purity and seated on white horses, in like manner symbolic of victory. Anticipating immense carnage, an angel summons all the fowls of mid-heaven to feast upon the flesh of the slain. The battle seems about to be joined, but the foes of this Conqueror are powerless; there is no conflict; forthwith the beast and his false prophet are violently seized and cast alive into the lake of fire. All their dupes and followers are slain with the great sword of the mighty Conqueror, and his victory is complete.
New scenes open. Nothing is said to indicate how near in time these scenes are to those of chapters 12-19, which give us judgments on the first beast and the second, and upon the harlot city, and also the consequent joy among the holy in heaven and the anticipated triumph of King Emmanuel over all his foes. The only obvious connection of this chapter with those is logical, not chronologicala connection of thought, not of time. This immediately foregoing series of events, commencing with chapter 12 opens with bringing to view the old serpent, called the Devil and Satan. He is shown to be the prime mover and arch instigator of all the persecutions under which the church suffers. He bears a mortal hatred toward the Zion-mother and her heaven-born Son (chap: 12); he "gives to the first beast his power, his seat and great authority;" (13: 2); he perpetually plies his old vocationa liar and a deceiver from the beginning (Jn. 8: 44, and 1 Jn. 3: 8); sending forth "unclean spirits of devils" to deceive the kings of the earth (16: 13, 14). So these chapters present him. If we can not say that he fills the foreground of the picture, we can at least see that he pulls the wires and works the machinery; his agencies underlie every movement of the hostile army arrayed against heaven's king and people. And now in this chapter he appears again, to receive his righteous doom. The beast and the false prophet have gone to their own place (19: 20); it remains only to finish in like manner the history of "the great red dragon." This chapter gives it in three distinct stages: (1.) He is bound, cast into the abyss, shut up and a great seal put upon his prison gate that he go forth to deceive the nations no more for a thousand years. (2.) Then he is loosed for a little season and resumes his old work of deceiving the nations, with the result of gathering them for one grand assault upon the beloved city to their own sudden and utter destruction. Then (3.) he is hurled down to his own placethe lake of fire and brimstoneto his destiny of woe eternal. This closes the history of this arch tempter of our racethis fell hater of God and of all goodness.The chapter before us touches upon three other grand points in the great programme of the world's history, viz., the joy of the martyred saints during the thousand years (vs. 4-6); the deceiving of the remote nations and their mustering to the last grand assault upon the holy city (vs. 7-9); and the final judgment-scene of our race (vs. 11-15). These momentous acts in the history of our world are touched with extreme brevity, yet with words of thrilling power.
This chapter and vs. 1-5 of the next bring before us the closing scenes in the magnificent panorama of the Apocalypse. The main question of interpretation here is whether this is truly the heavenly, post-resurrection state. Does this state follow the final judgment as brought before us in vs. 11-15 of the previous chapter?I am compelled to take the affirmative by the following considerations.(1.) The consecutive order of the visions naturally demands it. We have had the Millennium; then the last rallying of Satan's hosts and their destruction; then the "great white throne" of final judgment with the resurrection of all the dead immediately preceding and the wicked sent to their eternal destiny following:so that now it only remains to unfold much more in detail the eternal home and state of the righteous. That this should be given much more fully than the corresponding doom of the wicked is legitimately in harmony with the moral purpose of the whole book. There is every reason to assume that this is precisely the order of succession in these stupendous events which close up the moral history of our race as related to this earthly life and its corresponding future.(2.) The first verse alludes definitely to the passing away of the first heaven and the first earth and indicates that these new scenes come upon the great stage of action subsequently, i. e., after the old earth and heavens are gone. No rational sense can be given to this language save by assuming that we are now borne onward to the state beyond the resurrection and the final judgment. The very intent of this clause"for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away"must have been to locate these new scenes beyond and subsequent to those before described.(3.) All the features of this new state as here given represent it as the consummation of final retribution for all the moral good and moral evil of our present world. The righteous are shown in their eternal reward; the wicked in theirs.(4.) No objection lies against this view of the passage on the ground that the symbols and imagery are borrowed from things earthlylargely from Old Testament descriptions of the gospel age of the worldin general, from Jewish conceptions of the holy city as the dwelling place of Israel's God. If any thing positive is to be said of the ultimate heavenly world it must by the laws of the sternest necessity be put in symbolic language, and these symbols must be drawn from things with which we are familiar.
The first five verses close the description of the New Jerusalem. According to all principles of propriety they should have been included in chap. 21 The remainder of this chapter pertains to the conclusion of the whole book.